No election? Is it good or bad?

Following Gordon Brown's confirmation there will be no autumn poll Sian Berry reflects on the up and

So, there’s no election next month after all. I wish I had put money on that outcome a fortnight ago, when literally everyone was telling me it was a dead cert to happen.

This did include several journalists and political forecasters, and some of the shrewdest politicians I know, so I think it probably was at some point ‘on’. But events intervened (not least the genius of whoever organised the collective protest that involved people who couldn’t be bothered with it all telling ICM they were staunch Conservatives) and so it’s all off.

I have very mixed feelings about this episode. I don’t know whether to feel annoyed or relieved, jilted or let off. So, since my creative writing juices are all being used up meeting a book deadline, no well-thought-out analysis from me this week, just the tired old lazy blogger’s option of a couple of lists…

List one: top three reasons why not having an election is a good thing.

1) End of Brown bounce double-think

Brown is less ridiculously popular at last. The past few months have been one of those periods of collective amnesia right out of Orwell. As soon as he became PM, everyone - including normally sensible political editors - seemed to forget he’d been running the country for ten whole years and actually to believe ‘everything had changed’. Thank goodness that’s all over.

2) Tory true colours revealed

David Cameron’s New Lovely Conservatives™ have revealed that they are still a bunch of toads after all. Like a magic spell in a Grimm fairy tale, as soon as the mild panic of an imminent election campaign swept over them, the evil lurking under the spin was revealed. With unseemly haste, they ditched their paper-thin greenwash, hid the still-warm Quality of Life review under the sofa, and announced a bunch (yes, another bunch) of tax cuts for millionaires instead.

3) I don’t have to go canvassing for weeks and weeks in the dark and/or cold and/or wet.

Generally I love canvassing, but I had an autumn by-election last year and it can be awful this time of year. When it’s cold and dark, not only is it hazardous on all those unlit basement stairways, but you lose all the feeling in your hands, toes and lips after half and hour and, to make it worse, the success of each doorstep encounter is measured in how much heat you can allow to escape from the canvasee’s house. A carbon disaster – in my world all elections would be in June.

List two: top three reasons why I’m a bit gutted

1) Re-start of Cameron cult?

Despite the party’s overall nastiness being reconfirmed, Cameron himself has had a bit of a boost. He had been looking increasingly crappy in Brown’s new unspun world of grittinesss, but with the press all annoyed with the PM now for leading them up the garden path (and despite what has to have been one of the dullest and least passionate party leader speeches in history) Dave is flavour of the month again. I despair!

2) We were, actually, just about ready for this.

Given the long notice of the possibility of the ‘snap’ election, we were well on the way to having a great campaign ready to roll. We have more candidates selected than at any comparable point, our policies are in better shape than ever (largely thanks to the work done on our carbon-costed budget earlier this year) and, organisationally, we were all set to campaign like mad in our three target seats. Yeah, we could have had ‘em, bring it on, etc, etc.

3) We won’t after all see the first Green MPs next month.

Last May we topped the poll in local elections in our target seats in Brighton and Norwich. So, in a snap election a few months afterwards, we’d have had a great chance of repeating that achievement and making history with the first Green MPs.

However, waiting is not such a bad thing. It does give our recently selected candidate, Caroline Lucas MEP in Brighton, more time to build up a deeper rapport with voters there. With longer to campaign, and with far better candidates than the other parties, a delay at least lets us make sure we’re best placed to win in our target seats when Brown finally decides he has an iron grip on people’s voting intentions – or when his time runs out.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
Getty
Show Hide image

Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.